Prophets of Rage, Dru Hill dish on DC-area concerts this weekend

May 22, 2024 | (Jason Fraley)

WASHINGTON — Mark your music calendars now!

The rap-rock supergroup Prophets of Rage performs Friday at Eagle Bank Arena in Fairfax, Virginia, while Baltimore-born soul and R&B group Dru Hill performs Saturday at D.C.’s Howard Theatre.

WTOP caught up with key members of both groups ahead of the concerts.

‘Prophets of Rage’

Named after Public Enemy’s 1988 song from the album “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back,” Prophets of Rage includes Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello (guitar), Tim Commerford (bass) and Brad Wilk (drums), Cypress Hill’s B-Real, and Public Enemy’s Chuck D and DJ Lord.

Formed in 2016, the supergroup jams out to songs from all three bands’ deep catalogs.

“It’s incredible the size of the catalog we get to choose from,” Commerford said. “It’s Rage-ified songs, Cypress songs that have been Rage-ified, Public Enemy songs that have been Rage-ified. It’s cover songs and it’s mash-ups. It’s exciting and it’s angry and it’s badass … The band is important, but no more important than the audience. That’s what makes the show great: the shared enthusiasm.”

The supergroup was the brainchild of Morello, who can shred like no other, flipping his hand back and forth, alternating from front to back on the guitar, then palming the strings with an openhanded rub.

“I was excited when I got the call from Tom asking me if I wanted to be part of this,” Commerford said. “Tom gets excited about things, and I love it when he gets excited, because he makes s—t happen.”

Expect to hear Public Enemy hits like “Fight the Power,” “Rebel Without a Pause” and “Don’t Believe the Hype;” Cypress Hill hits like “Rap Superstar” and “Insane in the Membrane;” and Rage Against the Machine hits like “Killing in the Name Of,” “Guerrilla Radio,” “Renegades of Funk” and “Bulls on Parade,” the opening riff of which was written by Commerford after listening to John Coltrane.

“We all wrote riffs in that; I can speak for the opening riff, that was a riff that I came up with,” Commerford said. “That’s just straight lifted off of John Coltrane’s ‘My Favorite Things.’ John Coltrane is the greatest musician of all time, and I went through like an upright bass, bee-bop jazz phase where I would go to clubs and see anyone who was still living that played with Coltrane.”

If the music sounds angry, it’s because it comes from a real place. Morello makes no bones about his politics, branding the tour “Make America Rage Again” and telling Rolling Stone: “We’re not a supergroup. We’re an elite task force of revolutionary musicians determined to confront this mountain of election year bulls—t and confront it head-on with Marshall stacks blazing.”

“We have incredible music that we’re sitting on that needs to be out there and needs to be the soundtrack for defiance,” Commerford said. “Rage is what it takes to change the world, and it goes back in history. All the important changes that we’ve made in our world all stem from people that are pissed off, and this music is pissed off, and these dudes are pissed off, and this world needs change.”

What sort of change is Commerford talking about?

“We have a pretty insane presidential election happening,” he said. “You have a presidential nominee talking about building walls and banning Muslims, and you have countries leaving the European Union. … We live in a world where we’re building walls to separate people and cultures. … Music is the universal language, so that’s what we’re doing, we’re trying to tear these walls down.”

Various songs from all three bands speak to such issues.

“It could be ‘Channel Zero’ by Public Enemy, it could be ‘Calm Like a Bomb’ from Rage, or it could be ‘Kill a Man’ from Cypress,” Commerford said. “I learn about Latino culture from listening to hip-hop.”

What about Rage’s cover of Bruce Springsteen’s anti-poverty gem “The Ghost of Tom Joad?”

“We haven’t played it [yet], but I’ll tell you this, Tom wants to play it,” Commerford said. “I’m sure we’ll play it on this tour. I have on my phone a recording that he sent me of him playing acoustic guitar and going, ‘Hey we should do it like this!’ It sounds spectacular, so we will play it on this tour.”

Decades from now, will music historians look back on Rage similar to 1960s protest bands?

“I’m sure they will,” Commerford said. “Hopefully there will be a new generation of even more angry protest music years from now. Hopefully we’ll inspire them in the same way that Bob Dylan inspired us, so it’s a short list. There’s not a lot of bands that have had success having politics be their main focus, and it’s not an easy road to take, but it’s a great one. I love music that teaches me things.”

‘Dru Hill’

After you check out Prophets of Rage at Eagle Bank Arena in Fairfax on Friday, head out to D.C.’s historic Howard Theatre for the 20th anniversary concert of Baltimore-born group Dru Hill.

While the group wasn’t originally formed as a supergroup like Prophets of Rage, the lineup reads like a soul supergroup in hindsight, consisting of Mark “Sisqó” Andrews, Tamir “Nokio” Ruffin, Larry “Jazz” Anthony and newcomer Antwuan “Tao” Simpson, who replaces James “Woody Rock” Green.

Best known for its three No. 1 R&B hits “In My Bed” (1997), “Never Make a Promise” (1997) and “How Deep Is Your Love” (1998), Dru Hill returns to Howard Theatre for an annual appearance.

“They just recently renovated it and it’s just really gorgeous in there, but musically, it’s a really great-sounding room,” Sisqó told WTOP. “We’re actually filming one of Oprah’s shows … ‘Where Are They Now?’ … We’ve got a couple of surprises in store, especially since we’re going to be on TV, so you definitely don’t want to miss this 20th anniversary Dru Hill show at the Howard Theatre.”

Named after Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park, the members of Dru Hill met in high school in Baltimore. You may have even seen them harmonizing at the now-defunct Fudgery at the Inner Harbor.

“The Fudgery is closed. They should’ve let us invest in the company,” Sisqo joked. “That was kind of our minimum wage job. Instead of working at McDonald’s, we used to sing and make candy. I know there’s like a short joke coming in there somewhere, like the Keebler Elves!”

Fudge was just the beginning, as the guys took their sweet skills to more professional audiences.

“We did several local talent shows,” Sisqo said. “We won the Apollo Theatre [in New York City], and we performed a lot at Howard University because our business partner was actually an alumni from Howard. So some of our first opportunities to perform in front of a big crowd was us as R&B singers opening for a lot of hip-hop shows, which wasn’t really easy. If you’re coming to see a hip-hop show, the last thing you want to see is some group crooning. But that is where we really got our chops.”

Sisqo says the group learned a lot from those early D.C. performances.

“That was great practice. Thanks a lot D.C.!” Sisqo said. “Let’s put it [in terms of] a montage from a ‘Rocky’ movie. You know when he went to Russia and had to work out before he fought [Ivan] Drago? That was definitely how it was performing in D.C. Hey, [‘Drago’] is another word for ‘Dragon,’ and that’s what my fans call me, so hey, full circle! [Quotes Rocky Balboa] ‘Unleash the Dragooooo!'”

In fact, “Unleash the Dragon” was the name of Sisqo’s 1999 solo debut album, which earned three Grammy nominations and reached No. 2 on the Billboard albums chart. Much of this was off the strength of his massive hit single “Thong Song,” which climbed to the top of the R&B chart.

“At the end of the day, when it comes to the guys, what’s not to like about a thong?” newcomer Tao said, musing on “Thong Song.” “A lot of people just know [Sisqo] through the music and seeing him on TV and stuff, but once you really get to know him, you realize what a great person he is. Since the day I met him, he would give you the shirt off his back. He’s a very caring person. Real good dude.”

Hailing from Annapolis, Tao grew up listening to Dru Hill.

“I was just getting my license and I just so happened to be taking my driver’s test when ‘Tell Me’ came on the radio,” Tao recalled. “I was already blown away. … I can always remember saying to myself, ‘Yeah, they sound good, but if they had a top note — I sing the high note — if I could just join that group one time, I think I could do it. Then years later, it happened. So I guess dreams do come true.”

In 2008, Tao joined the group, replacing founding member James “Woody Rock” Green. While the lineup is slightly altered, it’s still the same popular Dru Hill songs you’ll hear at Saturday’s concert.

“It’s just one big sing-a-long from the intro to the outro. It’s amazing,” Tao said. “Me being new and being a part of something so iconic, and seeing the people singing every last song — and we don’t even hit on all of the songs all the time. So we might switch it up, but even when we switch it up, they’re right there singing every word for word, man. So when we’re home, there’s just always big love.”

Listen to the full conversations with members of Prophets of Rage and Dru Hill below:

May 22, 2024 | WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Tim Commerford of Rage (Full Interview) (Jason Fraley)
May 22, 2024 | (Jason Fraley)
Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up